Smith & Wesson Brands Inc v. Attorney General New Jersey, No. 21-2492 (3d Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
The New Jersey Attorney General, investigating Smith & Wesson under the state's Consumer Fraud Act, issued a subpoena seeking documents related to Smith & Wesson’s advertisements. Instead of producing the documents, Smith & Wesson filed suit in federal court under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging the subpoena violated the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The state trial court subsequently ordered Smith & Wesson to show cause and threatened the company with contempt and a ban on sales in New Jersey; the court rejected the constitutional arguments presented in the federal suit. Smith & Wesson unsuccessfully sought an emergency stay of production. In federal court, Smith & Wesson added claims that the Attorney General’s suit was “retaliation" for the exercise of its First Amendment right to petition a court for redress.
The Attorney General moved to dismiss the federal suit, citing “Younger” abstention. The district court dismissed the complaint, stating “the subpoena-enforcement action involves orders in the furtherance of state court judicial function.” Smith & Wesson eventually produced the subpoenaed documents under a protective order. The Third Circuit vacated the dismissal, citing the district court’s “virtually unflagging obligation . . . to exercise the jurisdiction given.” Abstention was not warranted in this case because the document production order was not “uniquely in furtherance of the state courts’ ability to perform their judicial functions.”